Austria plans quota as part of 'domino effect' to slow migrants

Migrants stay in queue during heavy snowfall before passing Austrian-German border in Wegscheid in Austria, near Passau November 22, 2015. REUTERS/Michael Dalder (Reuters)

By Francois Murphy SPIELFELD, Austria (Reuters) - Austria will introduce quotas to limit the flow of migrants onto its territory and is preparing crowd-control measures at up to a dozen additional crossings in case a bottleneck prompts a shift in peoples' movements, it said on Tuesday. Countries between Austria and Greece on the migrants' main route into Europe, through the Balkans and towards Germany, were also progressively tightening their border restrictions, creating a "domino effect", government officials said. "We have reached our capacity in various areas and must apply the brakes step by step," Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told a news conference at the country's busiest crossing, at Spielfeld, on the border with Slovenia. "There will be a daily quota and an hourly quota and, as soon as these are reached, we will stop (letting people through)," she said, adding that Germany has used a similar system on its border with Austria for months. That system has caused backlogs and delays in Austria. A similar outcome was to be expected in Slovenia, Mikl-Leitner said, adding that preparations would be made at a dozen additional border crossings, including the vital Brenner connection with Italy, for greater restrictions if necessary. She declined to say how large the quotas would be. Austria has mainly been a corridor into Germany for the hundreds of thousands of people, many of them Syrian refugees, who have reached its territory since the two countries threw open their borders to them in September. Austria and Germany have taken in a similar number of asylum seekers in proportion to their populations, a much larger share than most in Europe but still a far smaller burden than Syria's neighbours Lebanon and Jordan. With concerns about the influx fuelling support for the far right in Austria, the country's coalition government has grown increasingly impatient with the slow progress of European measures aimed at addressing the continent's migration crisis. "My impression is that a European solution will not be possible at least in the short term and possibly also in the medium term," Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil told the joint news conference with Mikl-Leitner in Spielfeld. "We must act now," he added. Mikl-Leitner said preparations would be made at a dozen crossings in addition to Spielfeld for measures to manage larger numbers of arrivals if necessary. Those could include a fence like the 4-km (2.5-mile) one there, she added. The Brenner crossing with Italy is one of those 12, Mikl-Leitner said, adding that efforts would be made to limit any effect on traffic. The highway there is one of the busiest commercial thoroughfares between Italy and northern Europe. Austria has already said it will halve asylum applications from 2015, and last week Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told Macedonia to be ready to "completely stop" the flow of migrants across its southern border, adding that Austria would soon do the same [nL8N15R2W9] [nL8N15T0CS]. (Additional reporting by Kirsti Knolle in Vienna and Steve Scherer in Rome; Editing by Alison Williams)